“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11)
“I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:18–19).
The church at Laodicea was spiritually poor, and the likely reason was that they were not poor at all when it came to material goods. Laodicea was a wealthy city—it was a center for banking, and also had a thriving wool and linen industry. They were also famous for a medical school, and for an eye ointment that was made there out of Phrygian powder.
The Roman historian Tacitus once wrote this about the city’s recovery from a major earthquake in 60 A.D.: “Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us” (Annals, xiv.27). They were rich, and the church there was an apparent partaker of the general wealth. And this meant in turn that the Christians were tempted to provide a sort of pious echo of that pagan wealth instead of offering a true alternative to it.
And so the Lord challenges them to receive true riches in place of their shadow riches—but He makes a point to use images drawn from their shadow wealth. Buy refined gold from me, gold refined in the fire (banking). Buy white raiment to cover your nakedness (textiles). Anoint your eyes with a spiritual eye salve (medicine). For more on this background, see Storms and Beale.
There were some severe spiritual problems in the six other churches of Asia, but the Lord somehow finds something to commend with them. But not here. This church really was, from front to back, wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. And yet . . .
What is the Lord’s response to this wretchedness? He invites them to be zealous in repentance. And He invites them this way because, as He puts it, He loves them. Why did He rebuke and chasten them? “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.”